Molly Graham has quite the resume.
She’s spent most of her career in tech, starting out in public relations at Google (on a 25-person team that would grow by 400% in the span of nine months). Then, she moved to another Silicon Valley heavyweight – Facebook – where she rotated between communications, product, human resources, and recruiting. By the time she left five years later, Facebook had grown from 500 employees to 5,500 📈
From there, Molly helped the startup Quip go from pre-launch to a Salesforce acquisition, before pivoting to philanthropy with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Now, she’s landed at the Lambda School, as their COO.
Needless to say, Molly has a pretty unique set of experiences. But there is a common denominator throughout: she knows the ins-and-outs of how to succeed inside a hypergrowth company.
Here’s her advice from more than 14 years of experience scaling businesses.
Scaling a business isn’t just hard, it’s emotional.
Molly won’t sugarcoat it: scaling a business is tough. We’ve all seen those shooting-star startups – the ones that went from tech wunderkind to getting eclipsed by a more agile competitor.
As an employee, being part of a rapidly growing business can create a whirlwind of emotions: excitement, uncertainty, frustration, and just a general state of being overwhelmed. You feel on the cusp of something great, and then like it’s all falling apart.
Believe it or not, these emotions are being felt inside every company that – on the outside – gives the appearance of being a well-oiled machine. This emotional rollercoaster is a normal response to being in a near-constant state of flux.
Being able to recognize which emotions are worth listening to, versus the ones that are self-sabotage in disguise, is an important skill to hone. (Even if this isn’t always intuitive.) At not-so-great companies, the latter often gets the better of people. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome start driving decision-making: teams get territorial, the office dynamic turns political.
But these efforts to assert control miss the point. As Molly notes, at a hypergrowth company, “Your job, ultimately, is to get good at change.”
Which brings me to her next piece of advice.
Your only job is to learn and grow as fast as you can.
When Molly was at Facebook, she felt like she was in a different job every three months, even if her title stayed the same. That was the pace at which Facebook was evolving and progressing.
The speed of change will be different at every company, but there’s a trick to keeping up, as Molly pointed out: “What you’re doing today and what you know today – fortunately or unfortunately – matters less than how fast you can grow, and what you can learn.”
Molly has seen people who were top performers in their field fall to the wayside a year later because they couldn’t adapt. Time and again, the people that thrive in scaling environments are the ones that are curious learning machines and are constantly thinking ahead.
In Molly’s experience, “One of the givens is that, whatever you’re doing today, even if it’s working blissfully, is going to fall apart at some point in the next year.” Or at the very least, become a dated approach.
So, how do you get good at change?
First, Molly goes by the following mantra: be useful. This could be construed as a vague piece of advice – especially when the trajectory of the company is constantly evolving. But as Molly said, “You don’t have to have all the answers. Your job is to get good at finding answers.”
Instead of falling into the trap of believing that you need to know everything at all times, shift your perspective. Can you bring people together, and collectively figure this thing out? That’s the key to success.
Don’t be afraid of sounding “like an idiot.”
No one ever wants to sound stupid in a meeting. It goes back to this (false) idea that our job is to be all-knowing; that to admit uncertainty is a sign of incompetence. But Molly urges you to push past that ego trap.
What she’s learned is that, “When you start asking ‘dumb questions’ one of the things that you realize is, a lot of questions aren’t that dumb.” More often than not, a lot of people in the room will have had the same one.
This open communication is what keeps everyone in sync. Now, Molly’s rule of thumb is to never assume everyone is on the same page. She’s seen this time and again, especially with “blackhole words,” or the business jargon that everyone throws around without clarifying its meaning. In Molly’s experience, these words tend to “suck all the productivity out of the room,” because everyone’s working with their own definition.
As she said, “You can have an entire meeting, and if you didn’t define the word, you didn’t agree on anything.”
What do we mean by ARR? What responsibilities are we looking for, when we say we want to hire a product marketing manager? What do we mean by company culture? These are just some of the questions that Molly has asked at different points in her career. And what she’s discovered is, “If you ask people to explain things, either you’ll get a really good answer or you’ll realize they didn’t understand what you were asking in the first place.”
The point being: don’t let the fear of “sounding stupid” keep you from speaking up. There have been several times in Molly’s career when she felt unqualified for the role she was in, but asked those “obvious” questions anyway. And either she helped point out a gap in everyone’s understanding, or she had the opportunity to learn from experts in the field.
As she jokingly put it, “Get comfortable being the moron.” Because, the truth is – you’re not.
Hypergrowth companies are relationship-based.
Another mistake to avoid at a hypergrowth company? Obsessing over the org chart.
Structures change quickly, departments are re-orged, and the person no one expected to get promoted is now everyone’s boss. So, the worst thing you can do is obsess over the hierarchy.
When Molly was at Facebook, she grew frustrated over not being named a director. She was angry, and impatient, and let those non-useful emotions we mentioned earlier eat away at her. But as she reflects, this was a waste of time. In her words, “Literally no one has ever asked me what my title at Facebook was. Because what you take with you is your story: here’s what I built, here’s what I saw, here’s what I got to experience, here’s what I led…”
Instead, focus on Molly’s first mantra, which is to be useful. Then, follow this up with her second mantra, which is: “be the person that everyone wants to work with.” As Molly said, “This is one of the most effective ways to get more responsibility and to grow inside of companies, because everybody wants you on their project.”
The best rule to follow, in Molly’s opinion, is: “Don’t be a jerk to anyone. It always comes back to haunt you.” You never want to be in the position where you need help from a colleague that you slighted in some way. (Because, more often than not, you’ll be on your own.)
In Molly’s career, every opportunity she’s had after Google came from someone she stayed in touch with. She’s seen it firsthand, admitting: “The technology industry is a relationship-based industry.”
Take the time to get to know everyone on your team; make friends with the people you work with. These are the connections that will help you grow in the long run.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the pace of a hypergrowth company. But it’s also important to remember that these companies are on the cusp of something new. No one has built what you’re in the process of building – which means you’ll constantly be learning on the fly, and pushing past your comfort zone.
Whether it’s rotating between different departments or running point on a project that’s not traditionally in your wheelhouse, hypergrowth companies are a masterclass in learning to adapt – one that’s worth taking advantage of.